A d v e r t i s e m e n t
Seven seasons ago, the Big Boards were born. (Oh, how we have
grown over the years…) For the sentimental types or the
readers who want to take a stroll down memory lane and relive
some of the great names from fantasy’s past, here
is the very first one.
Thankfully, a lot has changed since 2008. One thing that has
not changed, however, is my desire to be the most prepared owner
in the draft room. Hopefully, that desire comes out in my projections
and articles throughout the course of the year. While I can’t
speak to the success that everyone else has because of the Big
Boards, I know I can speak to my own.
We are about 2-3 weeks away from the time I bear down to select
my money-league teams, but many owners already have participated
in at least a couple of drafts already and I am no different.
My first draft of consequence occurred last Thursday when I took
part in The
Huddle Expert Auction. I’m not a fan of early drafting
at all, but I will also not complain about free practice against
industry experts at any point of the preseason using the method
of drafting I will be utilizing for some of my big-money leagues.
It’s another advantage I’ll have over the rest of
my competition in a couple of weeks and, just as importantly,
yours truly has guided FF Today to back-to-back titles (and four
straight championship game appearances) in the aforementioned
auction league. However, we’ll revisit that success when
I submit my annual “The Art of the Auction” sometime
in the next week.
Loyal readers already know my stance on the importance of value
when it comes to drafting, but most fantasy analysts fail to quantify
it. As it relates to my Big Boards, I define "value"
using the VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) concept for a two-RB,
two-WR league, which essentially allows me to compare apples and
oranges. At QB and TE, the value reflects the standard deviation
from the 12th-ranked player at the position – the last starting-caliber
player at the position. At RB and WR, the value reflects the standard
deviation from the 24th-ranked player. As I have mentioned many
times over the years, "value" in drafting is key. Need
has to outweigh value on occasion, but for the most part, it can't
hurt to take the best player left on the board. Understanding
the delicate balance of realizing a player is too good to pass
up and knowing exactly when the last spot in your likely Week
1 starting lineup needs to be filled often separates the great
drafters from the very good ones.
Beyond using “value” to ease the process of setting
up a draft board, analyzing the playoff matchups and common sense
has to enter into the conversation as well. A perfect example
of the latter is Jimmy Graham, whose PPR value should make him
a top-five player on all three boards. While Graham certainly
brings a huge advantage to his fantasy teams almost every week,
no number cannot account for the economic principle of “opportunity
cost” – the loss of potential gain from other alternatives
when one alternative is chosen – in real-time when owners
pass on an elite running back to draft Graham. A simple number
value also cannot account for the drastic falloff in value at
running back after the established top options are drafted, usually
by the end of the first round. Smart drafting also involves supply
versus demand. Every year, there are not nearly enough quality
running backs to occupy 24 starting spots in 12-team leagues.
Before I get to the boards, I would like to remind readers about
a few key points:
1) They are not going to look like many other draft boards you
see. My method of evaluating fantasy players relies heavily on
projected consistency and matchups, not overall fantasy point
total projections. All too often, fantasy owners and even the
so-called "experts" get hung up by the final numbers.
Don't get me wrong, I want all my players to have 300+ points
at the end of the season. But as the old saying goes, "It's
not about the destination, it's about the journey"; if my
RB1 gives me seven spectacular performances along with six duds
during the regular season, there's a fairly decent chance I may
end up 7-6. I don’t want that and neither should you.
2) I will push a player down my
board if feel he is a health risk or if I simply don’t/can’t
trust him. If you take the time to break down each
position I provide below, you will notice that I don’t follow
the point totals or averages to a tee. (Think of the average and
value I provide for each player as a starting point for my rankings.)
Outside of trust issues, I will push a player down my board –
despite a higher average or overall point total – if I believe
he will simply be less consistent throughout the season or if
his playoff schedule appears treacherous.
3) Much like the past two seasons, I want to provide readers with
a clear risk sign. If a player is a moderate risk – be it
due to holdout, injury, off-field, etc. – you will see a
next his name. If I feel a player is a severe risk, you will see
next to his name. While I feel like I have accounted for each
player’s “risk” with their spot on the Big Board,
you may be more or less inclined to deal with that risk than I
am. This is just another way of helping you take a look at the
board and quickly identifying which players stand a good chance
to frustrate you at some point this season.
Without a doubt, my main focus this year is set up a Big Board
that reduces risk for as long as possible while also drafting
for upside as soon as the most dependable players are off the
Note: At least
for this first set of Big Boards, I have chosen to stop at 150
players. Next week, I will add the kickers and defenses while
also expanding the number of ranked players. In the final set
of Big Boards in two weeks, I will add even more players.
Let’s revisit the color-coding system before we start:
Red – A very difficult matchup.
For lower-level players, a red matchup means they should not be
used in fantasy that week. For a second- or third-tier player,
drop your expectations for them at least one grade that week (i.e.
from WR2 to WR3). For elite players, expect them to perform one
level lower than their usual status (i.e. RB1 performs like a
Yellow – Keep expectations
fairly low in this matchup. For lower-level players, a yellow
matchup is a borderline start at best. For a second- or third-tier
player, they can probably overcome the matchup if things fall
right. For the elite players, expect slightly better than average
White – Basically, this matchup
is one that could go either way. In some cases, I just don’t
feel like I have a good feel yet for this defense. Generally speaking,
these matchups are winnable matchups for all levels of players.
Green – It doesn’t
get much better than this. For non-elite players, the stage is
basically set for said player to exploit the matchup. For the
elite player, this matchup should produce special numbers..
OVR – Overall Rank
PR – Position Rank
FPts – Fantasy points scored
FPts/ G – Fantasy points/game
Value - Read *** below
***In addition to discussing value above, there is one other note
regarding the numbers in the “value” column: numbers
that are bolded reflect positive values while the italicized numbers
are essentially negative. (For the more statistically-inclined,
the former values are on the right side of the bell curve while
the latter values are on the left side.)
One final note: Over the next
two weeks, I will be “quality controlling” my projections
(basically double-checking my numbers, such as not having one
defense projected to intercept 40 passes while another has just
five), so this week’s Big Boards may look dramatically different
– particularly at the bottom – in two weeks than they
currently do. As with all things that are worth doing, this process
takes time and needs to be constantly revised as more information
about depth charts and injuries becomes available. What I can
assure you is that my final set of Big Boards will be the most
comprehensive draft-day tool anyone in your league will have at
Last but not least, I’m going to try something a little
bit different this year in regards to the write-ups. Instead of
writing a lot about a handful of players located in various parts
of the Big Boards, I will instead write a quick-hitting summary
about the top 50 this week (I’ll be following the order
of the players listed on the PPR Big Board) and spend most of
my time over the next two weeks discussing the players outside
of that range – the players whose values have a chance to
change dramatically based on preseason action.
Let’s get to work:
Peterson – As I have
stated a time or two this summer, the marriage between new OC Norv
Turner and the freakiest running back in recent memory is a fascinating
one, even for a back entering his age-29 season. “All Day”
should be in line for a career high in receiving, which only makes
him more attractive considering he has rushed for at least 1,266
yards and 10 touchdowns (his totals last year) in all but one season.
Forte – There’s not
much to dislike about Forte, who led the league in red-zone touches
last year. Given the likelihood that he’ll push 70 catches
again and the fact has no discernable vulture to steal goal-line
scores from him anymore, the 28-year-old could easily lead all
backs in scoring.
McCoy – Perhaps the most
elusive back in the game, McCoy may be also be the scariest matchup
during the fantasy playoffs. While Darren Sproles isn’t
exactly a threat to his workload, the reason he sits below AP
and Forte is because the ex-Saint will probably steal just enough
touches to keep him from topping the list.
Charles – As long as Charles
plays, he will produce (right, Todd Haley?). However, it is going
to be a tall order for the best back in fantasy from a season
ago to duplicate his numbers from last year against the NFC West
and AFC East behind an offensive line that lost a lot of talent
in free agency.
Calvin Johnson – It is a
scary thought that “Megatron” could be primed for
his best fantasy season yet considering defenses will now have
to account for other receivers besides him. He has strong competition
for the top spot at his position to be sure and a sometimes-balky
knee, but few players strike fear into opposing fantasy owners
more than Johnson.
Demaryius Thomas – Decker’s
departure to the Jets means Manning has one fewer red-zone mouth
to feed in Denver. Thomas probably has the most challenging schedule
of all the elite receivers, but he also has the best quarterback
in the game throwing him the ball.
Graham – No other player
offers the weekly advantage Graham does at tight end, as indicated
by his “value” above. However, he falls to the middle
of the first round on the list because he plays a position that
usually requires only one starter. (If this explanation isn’t
clear, imagine what his value would be in a league that required
two starters at tight end…)
Bryant – The case could easily
be made that Bryant will need to post 1,500 yards and 15 TDs if
the Cowboys have any hope of winning a handful of the shootouts
they figure to be involved in this season. One problem: if Romo’s
back doesn’t hold up, it is Brandon Weeden to the rescue.
Lacy – If Lacy could promise
his owners a full 16 games, he would belong in the mix with the
top four running backs. With that said, there is potential for
a letdown here since there is reason to question his durability
(going back to college) and the fact the Packers’ offense
is still built around Rodgers.
Ball – While his early August
appendectomy isn’t exactly cause for long-term concern,
it is enough reason to believe he might get off to a slow start.
Although Ronnie Hillman has been drawing rave reviews in camp,
if Ball somehow proves he is in game-ready shape before the start
of the season, don’t hesitate to snap him up earlier than
this; Denver is all-in for this season and didn’t just decide
to ignore the running back position because it has Manning.
Bernard – The first of many
all-purpose backs that are dynamic threats in between the 20s
whose upside will be capped somewhat because they will either
get vultured at the goal line or spelled on a regular basis by
a power back. Still, as one of a few players capable of pushing
70 receptions and 300 touches, he warrants a pick near the turn.
(Think of him as the new pre-2013 Forte in fantasy.)
Manning – While Decker’s
departure might be good for Demaryius Thomas’ fantasy upside,
it robs Manning of one very good red-zone threat against a very
difficult schedule. While any Manning-led team will do most of
their damage through the air, it is unreasonable to think he will
push 5,000-plus yards AND 50 touchdowns again this year.
Jones – The No. 1 receiver
in fantasy at the time of his season-ending injury last season,
Jones won’t have the benefit of being the only healthy stud
at his position on his team this time around. His twice-repaired
foot is the main reason he is out of the first-round mix, but
the risk here may very well be worth the reward considering he
belongs in the conversation with Johnson, Bryant and Demaryius
Marshall – As Cutler’s
favorite target in HC Marc Trestman’s offense, the only
significant downside to Marshall is that he will have some down
games because Jeffery has emerged as such a dominant force.
Green – The Bengals’
most dynamic playmaker should be in the first-round mix based
on talent, but he carries a bit of risk since new OC Hue Jackson
figures to dial down the high number of pass plays Cincinnati
called under former play-caller Jay Gruden. His fantasy playoff
schedule is also another downer as Cleveland (Joe Haden) and Denver
(Aqib Talib) await.
Once we get out of the top 15, we get into a group of potentially-elite
players that carry at least one potentially serious question mark.
Murray – Apparently, all
it took was one 14-game season from Murray to get owners all excited
about Murray, who has missed 11 games over his first three seasons.
There is little doubt he will be productive when he is on the
field, but his upright running style does not do him any favors
in that regard.
Foster – Few owners would
be all that concerned about Foster were it not for the fact that
he is returning from season-ending back surgery and now dealing
with what is thought to be a recurring hamstring injury. However,
it could be argued that nobody outside the top 15 could provide
a bigger payoff to a risk-taking owner than Foster…or provide
more weekly concern.
Le’Veon Bell – The
second-year back lost a bit of luster the day the Steelers added
LeGarrette Blount to the backfield, although the former Patriot
really doesn’t do anything better on the football field
better than Bell. Still, expect Blount to steal 5-8 carries per
game, which should be enough to cap Bell’s fantasy ceiling.
Lynch – America’s fascination
with the next big thing (Christine Michael) has actually caused
“Beast Mode” to go a bit underappreciated. With that
said, if Michael steals even 50 carries over the course of the
season from Lynch, he goes from a pretty solid mid-range RB1 to
a low-end one.
Nelson – Although he enjoyed
his best statistical season in 2011, Nelson may have been at his
best last season, consistently delivering double-digit fantasy
totals despite being without good buddy Rodgers for half the season.
With James Jones gone and Rodgers unlikely to miss such significant
time again in 2014, he’s a good bet to improve on last season’s
numbers (1,314 yards and eight TDs).
Brown – It could be argued
that no receiver in PPR formats was as consistent as Brown, who
posted double-digit fantasy totals in every week last season.
While no one should question his ability to get open, owners do
have a right to question whether or not he can repeat his 66.7-percent
catch rate or six touchdowns of 30-plus yards.
Stacy – As the centerpiece
of a St. Louis offense that improved its offensive line, Stacy
would seem to deserve a higher ranking. However, I find it difficult
to throw all my support behind him because of his schedule and
the fact that his best asset at this point is dependability; backups
Benny Cunningham and Tre Mason are more explosive.
Bush – The emergence of Joique
Bell makes Bush slightly less attractive than he was at this time
last year, but not so much than he can’t be a very low-end
RB1 or top-notch RB2. He’s essentially an older Gio Bernard
with more durability questions and less opportunity to approach
Gerhart – Stuck behind Peterson
for his entire pro career, Gerhart falls into the one situation
that probably gives him the best shot at a massive workload. There
may not be a lot of sizzle (elusiveness) to his game to get fantasy
owners excited, but the steak (volume) he figures to provide should
make him a consistent RB2.
Ellington – Despite HC Bruce
Arians’ assertions that he is a “bellcow”, it
just doesn’t seem all that likely that he’ll go from
a player that didn’t receive more than 15 carries in any
game last year to a back that consistently gets 20. With that
said, Ellington probably doesn’t need much more than 250
touches to push 1,500 total yards.
White – The 32-year-old White
missed games for the first time in his nine-year career and was
dogged by a high ankle sprain and hamstring pull throughout the
first two months, but proved he had plenty left in the tank when
he finally got healthy. With the Falcons’ defense still
a big question mark, it should come as no surprise if he returns
to his 90-catch, 1,300-yard ways.
Jeffery – About the only
thing keeping Jeffery from ranking inside the top 15 is the fact
that his consistency may suffer since Cutler leans a bit more
on Marshall. Still, it’s a small knock for a player that
posted a pair of 200-yard receiving games a season ago and showed
the ability to almost singlehandedly win fantasy weeks by himself
on a few occasions.
Spiller – Plagued by an early
ankle injury, Spiller really could never get on track in OC Nathaniel
Hackett’s up-tempo offense. Although he burned a lot of
owners who spent a first-round pick on the player Hackett claimed
he would run until “he threw up”, Spiller has plenty
of motivation (contract year) and a clean bill of health behind
an underrated offensive line in a run-heavy attack.
Brees – The Saints may be
committed to running the ball more often this season, but Brees
hasn’t finished with fewer than 5,000 yards passing or 39
touchdowns in any of his last three seasons and now has a new
toy in Cooks. Although he might fall a bit off the lofty standards
he has set recently, HC Sean Payton’s aggressiveness figures
to make him a very safe bet to be a top-three quarterback yet
Rodgers – While it seems
unlikely the Packers will meet their stated goal of 75 plays per
game, it bodes well for Rodgers that HC Mike McCarthy wants his
team to pick up the pace. Despite missing nearly half the season
last year, Rodgers isn’t exactly a health risk and makes
the game look as easy as any quarterback in the game today.
Cobb – The early reports
coming out of camp regarding Cobb are reason for concern for a
player coming off a broken leg in 2013. With that said, the fourth-year
wideout was on pace for 100 catches before his injury and could
lead the league in catches if he can rediscover his pre-injury
Morris – The unquestioned
starter in Washington, Morris should go about a round higher in
standard leagues. Although he has proven that he can catch the
ball, new HC Jay Gruden is under the belief that he lacks “natural
hands”. At any rate, Morris is a strong bet to come close
to the 276 carries he managed a season ago and has significant
touchdown-scoring upside in an offense that should be much-improved
Sankey – The Titans may be
making the rookie work really hard to earn the top spot on the
depth chart, but Shonn Greene is a poor bet to keep the job or
stay healthy for very long. Tennessee has one of the best offensive
lines in football, so Sankey should be a solid RB2 despite the
fact Greene may steal goal-line work from him in the early going.
Gronkowski – If only the
Patriots’ tight end was a surefire bet to play even 12 games,
he would warrant an early second-round pick. However, most fantasy
owners can’t afford to take that chance in the first 30
picks of a draft, which is the only reason why he finds himself
on the outside looking in.
Cruz – After beginning the
season with a three-score effort, Cruz visited the end zone only
one more time the rest of the season as Eli Manning became a turnover
machine and the offensive line fell apart. Although the line may
not be markedly better in 2014, new OC Ben McAdoo’s West
Coast offense should be perfect for the lightning-quick Cruz;
100 receptions is not out of the question.
Fitzgerald – The end of Fitzgerald’s
reign as Arizona’s top receiver may be coming soon, but
his ability to score 10 times and post 82 catches for 954 yards
despite being hampered by a hamstring injury proves he is still
more than capable of serving as a fantasy top-end WR2 or low-end
WR1. He’ll continue to see more action out of the slot,
where he poses significant mismatch potential.
Martin – Perhaps no back’s
workload has been discussed more this offseason than Martin, who
missed 10 games last year with a torn labrum. While the amount
of talent in the Bucs’ backfield and likely drop in touches
is a small concern for his fantasy outlook, the bigger issue may
end up being an offensive line that could potentially get manhandled.
Garcon – It is entirely possible
that Garcon’s production will fall off due to the addition
of DeSean Jackson and the emergence of Reed, but it is also just
as likely that whatever targets and receptions he loses will be
made up for by more visits to the end zone.
Julius Thomas – There is
no doubt that “Orange Julius” will have a tougher
road to fantasy stardom this year than he did during his breakout
2013 campaign. Likewise, there is little doubt that Decker’s
departure to New York frees up a lot more red-zone opportunities
for a player who scored on eight of his 14 catches inside the
20 last season.
Welker – The “slot
machine” was something of a red-zone revelation last season
before two concussions slowed the 50-555-9 line he recorded through
the first half of 2013. Although the chances of another concussion
should concern fantasy owners, it is impossible to ignore just
how much Welker can dominate on a regular basis in PPR formats.
Andre Johnson – After sitting
out most of the offseason while deciding whether or not he wanted
to continue playing in Houston, Johnson quickly suffered a hamstring
injury early in camp. As great as Johnson is, he is a potentially
unhappy 33-year-old receiver depending on Ryan Fitzpatrick to
keep his fantasy stock afloat; in other words, his arrow is pointing
Patterson – On the other
end of the spectrum is Patterson, who became a fantasy playoff
darling late last season after former OC Bill Musgrave decided
to let the kid play. Turner, the new play-caller, wasted no time
upon his arrival to start diagramming plays for the second-year
stud and, as a result, the only question will be how quickly he
can adjust to being the focus of defensive coordinators on passing
Floyd – It’s not hard
to build a case that Floyd will become the most feared receiver
in Arizona by season’s end – if he’s not there
already – and put up numbers similar to those posted by
Alshon Jeffery last year. Like Jeffery, however, his consistency
may be a bit hit-or-miss because a healthy Fitzgerald figures
to remain Palmer’s go-to receiver for at least one more
Allen – The 2013 third-round
pick took advantage of a number of injuries in San Diego as a
rookie and went from the Chargers No. 4 receiver in September
to Rivers’ go-to guy in October. While his figures to be
plenty productive again in his second season, perhaps no top-flight
faces a more difficult schedule than Allen.
Vincent Jackson – The senior
member of “The Dunkaneers”, Jackson continued to post
solid WR2 numbers last season despite the fact that he had relatively
little help around him. Mike Evans’ arrival will probably
clip his numbers just a bit, but few receivers present the physical
mismatch that Jackson does at 6-5 and 230 pounds.
Torrey Smith – As the unquestioned
top receiver in Baltimore and playing in the same role that made
stars out of Andre Johnson and Rod Smith in new OC Gary Kubiak’s
offense, Torrey Smith is a solid bet to set career highs in receptions
and yards while also possibly matching the eight touchdowns he
scored in 2012.
Luck – The Manning-Brees-Rodgers
trio is waiting for a fourth quarterback to join the fraternity
and it is hard not to like Luck, who has a ridiculous amount of
receiving talent at his disposal. The only question is whether
or not second-year OC Pep Hamilton will truly embrace his newfound
“score-first” mentality this year as opposed to stubbornly
sticking with the run game like he did as a rookie play-caller
Stafford – Although his owners
last season got burned, Stafford’s inability to recapture
his 2011 fantasy form can be blamed to a large degree on bad mechanics
and the lack of another receiver to take coverage away from Calvin
Johnson. While Eric Ebron shouldn’t be expected to have
a significant rookie-year impact, Stafford should reap the benefits
of having Golden Tate as his second option.
Hilton – Assuming the Colts
stick to using a high percentage of two tight end personnel and
don’t treat Hilton as strictly a slot receiver anymore,
the sky is the limit for the third-year product from Florida International.
If he becomes a full-time player, the week-to-week inconsistency
that has dogged Hilton should become a thing of the past.
| Non-PPR Big Board
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Doug Orth has written for FF Today
since 2006 and has been featured in USA Today’s Fantasy Football
Preview magazine since 2010. He has hosted USA Today’s hour-long,
pre-kickoff fantasy football internet chat every Sunday over the
past two seasons and appears as a guest analyst before and during
the season on Sirius XM’s “Fantasy Drive” as well
as 106.7 The Fan (WJFK – Washington, D.C). Doug is also a
member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.